Multi-College Districts (MCDs) comprise approximately 65 of our 110 colleges in 22 districts, with Riverside District being the latest variable as they attempt transition into the world of MCDs. With the recent overhaul of community college funding regulations by SB 361 (2007), there is even more pressure for districts to go this route because converting a center into college status yields a multimillion dollar annual increase for the district. So, some faculty have wondered if there really are enough benefits from the MCD model to justify the additional challenges not found in single-college districts (SCD).
A Brief History
In the Spring of 2006 there were several frustrated MCD faculty pondering their respective MCD woes when the idea arose to see if it would be possible to improve MCDs by learning more about them through research and investigation. They wondered if it would be possible to show they truly cost more or less to operate in terms of actual cost, undue dysfunction, wasted time, morale, debilitating frustration, and duplication of effort.
Surveying as a Tool
Thus resolution 13.05 S06 was the genesis for producing a survey that ended up being very complex. At the same time the Academic Senate Executive Committee had been exploring the idea of using a survey consultant to collect this kind of data. The survey was distributed in February and March of 2009 to faculty senate presidents, curriculum chairs, and planning/budget co-chairs, receiving input from 59 respondents representing approximately half of the MCD colleges. Due to the complexity of the survey and the hard fact that surveys generally only produce data reflecting respondent perceptions it was decided that input from the single-college districts would not significantly add enough to this data set to a degree that warrants putting them through the time to complete the survey.
Basic Survey Results
Both in the quantitative and narrative responses, respondents overwhelmingly indicated that MCDs are perceived to treat their colleges inequitably with respect to resource allocation (65%). To counter this though, when queried if respondents personally felt this was true there was a 25% increase in the cohort believing there is equity or they just weren't certain.
Another question asked about the effectiveness of district oversight in a variety of decision-making processes. There seemed to be much more confidence in the integrity of processes where decision-making authority remained at the campus level.
At the 2009 Spring Plenary Session the Relations with Local Senates Committee held a breakout to further discuss the results, to solicit more input, and to ascertain future directions for this effort. This resulted in several trains of thought, not the least of which was the idea that further investigation was both warranted and welcome. To this end the conversation asked what quantitative data may be available that would evaluate cost efficiencies, particularly as measured over a period of time. It was pointed out that the phrase "duplication of effort" was a little tough to analyze in some areas. Interrelated to this the idea prevailed among attendees that dysfunctionalism within the multi-layered processes of MCDs was often unreasonably high. The mathematicians present noted that the total number of respondents was not a significantly useful sample size, so to counter this it was suggested that more quantitative data and research is needed to validate the perceptive data if possible.
Other questions were:
Is there a higher level of satisfaction when a district senate is in place?
How can we get better and more accurate data, both reported and local?
What are the trends with respect to changes in staffing ratios, funding and other resource allocations in MCDs versus SCDs?
As the dialog shifted towards what may be useful for directing further effort, the idea arose that within the cohort of attendees' districts were pockets of functionalism that fell into some rough cluster areas. These included resource allocation models, curriculum alignment, intra-district communication, a perception of effectiveness derived from leadership that values and functions easily within participatory governance, and portability of a variety of services such as assessment, student records, and technology resources.
So the one question remains, what do we do next? Many of us from MCDs are often frustrated by them, while there appear be some from SCDs who would prefer to be in an MCD (presuming the trend being established by Woodland, Norco, and Moreno Valley accurately reflects faculty sentiments). While railing at the vagaries of the MCD model might engender healthy venting, a more practical use of our limited resources might be to use this data and further research to provide insights on how to be more effective in costs and use of time; on how to operate with less angst and better morale; on how to better serve our students by copying the good, avoiding the bad, and outright eliminating the ugly.
The following are two areas of future effort that are indicated by both the survey and the subsequent breakout.
Identification and dissemination of effective practices
- Cluster areas of focus can include curriculum processes and alignment, academic/educational planning across the college boundaries, intra-district communication, local and district leadership values and functions, effective use of centralization and scale, and service portability.
- The identification of a variety of MCDs and SCDs that do one or more of these cluster areas well may require additional research, although we did identify several faculty present at the breakout that seem to have developed effective practices in one or more of these cluster areas.
- Once some of these have been identified we can conduct follow-up interaction to identify and document these practices.
- Then, based upon these results, we can present findings in the manner most appropriate to them.
Further research suggestions include:
- Gather reported and local data from a variety of sources
- Validate perceptive data with quantitative data (e.g., colleges do receive inequitable resources within MCDs)
- Use comparative data to ascertain potential differences in functional patterns between MCDs and SCDs, and potential trends related to common Academic Senate issues such as funding ratios to faculty, staff and administrator ratios, accreditation challenges, technical visit requests, turnover rates, etc.
- Identify patterns validating efficiencies found within MCDs and SCDs to include some common basic costs such as the cost to operate an MCD Board of Trustees versus several SCD Boards.
- Conduct a comparative qualitative morale survey data between MCDs and SCDs.
- Collect and analyze scale effectiveness data (e.g., ability to pass bonds or influence other local issues)
In summary, while to some the multi-college district model has many shortcomings, the pragmatic reality is they are likely here to stay and may become even more prevalent. This survey provided indications that multi-college districts have unique characteristics which could affect morale and functionality, that there is much we can do to identify and share effective practices, and there is a great deal of potential for more research. Given the many uninvited external entities looking to study us in the interests of fixing us, it is a shame we can't find a way to guide their efforts to meet our efforts.